Oksana G.: "It's so out of this world, and yet so realistic."
"These are not just, as we would think, troubled teenagers. They are regular girls, young women." Ukrainian-Canadian soprano Natalya Gennadi is referring to the disturbing theme that lies at the heart of Oksana G., the opera by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy which is presented by Tapestry Opera from May 24-30.
The fictional story of Oksana, the young Ukrainian woman who is lured into sex trafficking, is one that Gennadi finds "very realistic." The 17 year-old student has her heart set on studying in Odessa, but "in Ukraine the economic situation is quite dire," adds Gennadi. "This guy comes by, he offers her a summer job that pays very well. She basically agrees, and it all goes downhill from there."
"This is very common, and I have heard lots of stories like this," she says. Economic desperation and a certain level of naïveté can make it quite simple for recruiters to entice young women with the promise of decently paying work. Gennadi grew up in the Ukraine, and she is of a similar age to Oksana herself. "I understand this desperate desire to improve your life."
Alongside Gennadi, Oksana G. features more Canadian excellence onstage, including Keith Klassen, Adam Fisher, Krisztina Szabó, Jacqueline Woodley, and Kim Barber. Rising star Jordan de Souza conducts (Rocking Horse Winner, M'Dea Undone), and Canadian cornerstone Tom Diamond directs (Iron Wood, The Shadow).
"It's the tragedy of it," says Gennadi, that makes Oksana G. worthy of an operatic telling. "It's so out of this world, and yet so realistic, what happens to this girl." Gervais' score is text-serving and seems to undulate with danger; "nobody really breaks into song. It's very real."
"Tom Diamond, our director, he calls it opera verité," she says of the care and respect taken with the story of Oksana. "We have to break a lot of operatic conventions here."
With her Ukrainian background, Gennadi has found herself an "unsolicited consultant" in the rehearsal room, offering insight on the small details that add up to an organic, realistic performance. Much of that is already in the opera itself, and it's no small endorsement that Gennadi, on first glance, found the libretto "brilliant."
"I hope that people will understand all the accuracy and all the realism in [Oksana G.], because I appreciate it greatly."
It's a story that is current, and likely closer to home than many Canadian audiences may realize. For Gennadi, Oksana G. is "Canadian, and it's Ukrainian. It's human."
"It's a great piece of opera."
Oksana G. runs at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, 227 Front St. E, May 24-30. For full details and ticket information, click here.